Phyrexian Obliterator – New Phyrexia
Date Reviewed: February 23, 2023
Commander [EDH]: 4.25
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
We’ve reviewed Phyrexian Obliterator a few times, going all the way back to its original release in 2012, and its situation hasn’t changed much in certain ways. Any deck that can cast it can threaten massive damage, both in the combat sense and in the payback from people trying to block it. And the “any deck that can cast it” is not universal but more than you might perhaps guess, now that there are shocklands and similar cards everywhere. Decks with white and/or black should still be able to get it off the table without losing half of their cards, if they have the right answers on hand.
There are a couple of things that have changed. First, the ubiquity of green cards with the fight action and the one-sided stat-based damage action has lulled a lot of people into thinking their green-blue deck can deal with any creatures they want now. Both of them are comedically bad against the Obliterator, almost as bad as red burn spells; the former can also be used alongside the Obliterator, to force your opponent to deal damage to it even when they choose not to block it. Second, there are a lot more “Swiss army knife” big creatures, which have both big stats and big abilities, to compete with it in deck selection. But it’s not always cut and dried which one you should choose: sometimes you need to get fancy, and sometimes you just need to throw a big creature at your opponent until you win.
Commander [EDH]: 4
Back in 2011, Phyrexian Obliterator turned heads. A lot of them. A riff on Phyrexian Negator, Obliterator turned the downside of its forebear around and into a weapon with which it could punish any attempts to block it, making for a hard-to-stop offensive juggernaut that also discouraged burn spells. The downside of costing quadruple black mana was real, but the fact remained that Obliterator…well, obliterated if it got on the board.
At least, that’s what the theory was. The issue was that New Phyrexia also had Dismember, which was a functionally colorless removal spell that could eliminate Mister Bigglesworth and its ruthlessly efficient death stroke for just one mana. Dismember was a massively defining and warping card for the entirety of its Standard run, and it continues to see a lot of play in every format it’s legal in, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Phyrexian Obliterator, while not bad, was held severely in check by the fact that every deck ran a full playset of Dismember.
Phyrexia: All Will Be One does mark the return of Phyrexian Obliterator to Standard, this time without Dismember, and I think this may finally be its time to shine. The body is still comically efficient and oppressive once it hits play, even after over a decade of horrifying cards, and while the mana cost is still a steep ask, you’re paying four mana for a threat that demands a very specific set of answers to it. I feel like Obliterator’s going to always be a card whose power depends heavily on how good the removal is of its formats; it’s never quite made waves in Modern or Legacy, formats defined by one-mana removal options, but Obliterator may have its long-awaited day in the sun in Standard (and possibly Pioneer).
Commander [EDH]: 4.5
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